This is a phrase we often hear concerning Christians: we are in the world but we are not to be of the world. The fact is that we live on the earth – we are in the world. But Christians are to be different from those we live among – we are not to be of the world.
The idea of God’s people being different from those who don’t follow God seems to have always been there. Abel obeyed God in his sacrifice while Cain did not. Noah built an ark while everyone else questioned what he was doing. Abraham was given a special symbol – circumcision – to show that he was different and that he and his descendants followed God.
When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, God had some instructions for how they were to live as his people. After giving them the Ten Commandments, the Israelites deciding they didn’t want to hear the voice of God anymore, but for God to give the instructions to Moses who would then give it to the people. God then began to give a list of things the Israelites were to do and were not to do. Included in this list was this same idea: they had to be different from those around them.
“For my angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will destroy them completely. You must not bow down to their gods; you must not serve them or do according to their practices. Instead you must completely overthrow them and smash their standing stones to pieces” (Exodus 23:23-24 NET).
The problem for the Israelites was that God was not going to drive out all those who lived in the land immediately. “I will not drive them out before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you become fruitful and inherit the land” (Exodus 23:29-30). So as they were conquering the land they would also be living beside those they were in the process of conquering. Obviously those who were being conquered did not want to be defeated – they wanted to continue to live as they had been living. They would do anything to try to make peace with these invaders. This is why God had to warn them time and again not to get involved with those who already lived in the land.
“You must make no covenant with them or with their gods. They must not live in your land, lest they make you sin against me, for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:32-33).
Is it that different for God’s people today? We live among people who do not worship or serve our God. Their lives are characterised by immorality. Most think nothing of doing whatever it takes to further themselves and what they want. And they want us to join in with them. Isn’t it amazing the number of activities that now compete with the time we worship God each Sunday?
We need to remember who we are – we belong to God (1 John 3:1-10). Because we belong to God we must live different lives than those around us. Our lives must be characterised by doing what is right. Our living as a Christian has to be more than saying the right things – we must also do what is right and true.
“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
Readings for next week:
14 December – Exodus 28
15 December – Exodus 29
16 December – Exodus 30
17 December – Exodus 31
18 December – Exodus 32